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Man’s ‘family’ eases transition to his new home in Riverton

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RIVERTON — John Hocking has a simple outlook, a simple home and a simple life.

And his friends are going to make sure it stays that way.

With the Utah Department of Transportation's plans to widen 12600 South, Hocking's home is one of many in the expansion zone that will have to be cleared to accommodate burgeoning traffic. The problem is, he can't just pick up and move like his neighbors who are similarly affected.

In the world of special needs individuals, Hocking is both to his friends: both special, and right now, in extra need. He has never been part of the state's social service system because he is a very lucky man: Rather than tossing his challenges on a caseworker's paperwork pile, his friends have simply taken care of him — for more than a decade.

When he heard from neighbors that UDOT was widening the road and his home was to be demolished, he found Perry Cassing, one of his former LDS bishops and a longtime friend. "I don't know where I'm going to go. No one ever talks to me about it," Cassing remembers him saying. "So I said, 'Let's talk right now. We'll see what you think and how you feel and if we can't do something about it.' "

Word spread quickly through the area Hocking has called home for more than 40 years. Cassing says all the old-timers in Riverton know Hocking and have always done the kinds of small, anonymous things to help that no one keeps track of or asks about. LDS ward members mobilized their resources and enlisted others in the community who have the skills needed to work through "the system" that takes place when property is condemned and dislocation occurs.

"We've actually got quite a little group that's been active, people that are old hands at going to City Council meetings and working with real estate problems," Cassing says. "You can find just about any kind of expertise when you look around the community long enough."

Jordan Christensen is an attorney, a counselor in Hocking's LDS bishopric, and a friend that's one of many volunteering his time to see things through.

"John is just family to most everyone in Riverton, and especially to people in the three wards" that surround his property. "He's just kind of our adopted son and brother, and with the UDOT situation, we realized it wouldn't be healthy or good for him to have to move anywhere else."

The group at first decided to build him a new home on property behind the existing place and had begun soliciting donations of materials and labor. But the city had other plans for the property, which is adjacent to Riverton High School. So, working with city officials and UDOT, they were able to get approval to move another recently remodeled home — which was also to be displaced by the construction — off its foundation and onto a new foundation four doors down from Hocking's current home.

"We've had good cooperation, and I can't say enough about UDOT," Christensen said.

With the existing commitments of labor and materials, and the hope that others will add their own money and resources to the effort, the committee is moving ahead with the plan.

Christensen said Hocking's new home will not only be larger and more suitable than his existing home, but he'll get a relatively new barn to keep his many chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, a cat and a dog. All without leaving the "family" that will continue to care for him — and let him care for them.

Cassing said Hocking gives back to the community in his own way. "If someone is needing help moving in the neighborhood or building a garage, John has his gloves on and he's there."

While he can drive his car "only on back roads — I don't go on the freeways because my nerves can't take it," Hocking doesn't read maps or take long trips. The same grocery store, the local LDS church and the homes of his friends are his primary destinations. He drives to work on good days, and when the weather's bad, he gets a ride from a friend in Bluffdale who shows up unbidden to take him to work at a truss manufacturing plant. He carries lumber and cleans up after others who work the big machinery. "My boss takes good care of me," he said, grinning.

His only living relative is his brother, a quadriplegic who lives in a care center. Hocking visits him once a month. The two boys were adopted by Parley Hocking ("he came from Illinois and that's all I know about it") and his wife, Brista, who was from Sweden "and came over on the boat."

After caring for his aging parents for 12 years, his mother died more than a decade ago, and his father followed within a year. Technically, some may have considered him an "orphan" at that point, but his friends became his family after he called Cassing on the day of his father's death and asked, "What do I do now?"

They make sure his car is running, his checkbook is balanced ("I have my own accountant"), and that his social life remains rich with invitations to go fishing, camping, to have share in individual and LDS ward dinners and events.

And next month, they're helping him clean out the house he has lived in "since I was 5." Time has taken its toll on the clapboard structure, and Hocking admits to being something of a pack rat that has a hard time "throwing things away."

So, they're coming to help him ease the transition from the only home he has ever known to a new place just down the street.

Meanwhile, the three-month effort to keep him close by has already consumed hundreds of man hours, with many more yet to come. But Cassing said no one has ever considered keeping track, "because no one that's doing it cares one way or the other how long it takes. We just want to get it done, see him be really comfortable and just continue with his everyday activities without that panicked feeling in his heart that he doesn't know what to do."

The breadth of his "family's" kindness and support isn't lost on this man. When asked about his good fortune and the number of people who are working to make his life comfortable for the future, he doesn't even try to enumerate.

His reply, and his affection, are simple.

"I got everybody."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com